BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Forensic scientists have finally identified a mutilated corpse that washed up on the shore in 1976 as that of a Chilean leftist who was among the first victims of the Argentine dictatorship.
The Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team used genetic evidence and fingerprints taken by Uruguay's military government at the time to identify the body as Luis Guillermo Vega Ceballos, an activist with Chile's Revolutionary Workers Party.
Vega Ceballos had been detained in Buenos Aires on April 9, 1976, along with his pregnant Argentine wife Laura Gladis Romero, whose body has never been found. The human rights group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo believes she was among hundreds of dissidents killed after giving birth in captivity, and whose babies were raised by military or police families. The child would be turning 36 years old this month.
The discovery was announced Thursday night in Uruguay, where Peace Commission Secretary Graciela Jorge said "it closes a small chapter" in the history of the dirty wars that right-wing militaries fought against leftist revolutionaries in the 1970s.
Vega Ceballos' corpse showed clear signs of torture when it washed up on the coast of neighboring Uruguay, which also was ruled by a dictatorship, from 1973-1985. He had been mutilated and his hands were tied. Still, Uruguayan authorities followed their laws and took fingerprints that eventually enabled forensic scientists to identify the body.
In all, eight bodies that had washed up on the coast and been buried in a cemetery in Colonia, Uruguay were sent this year to the forensics team in Argentina. Of them, three others have been identified: Argentines Horacio Adolfo Abeledo and Roque Montenegro, and Uruguayan Alberto Mechoso Mendez, she said.
Abeledo was a 22-year-old salesman who was detained on July 21, 1976, according to Argentina's official registry of the disappeared. Montenegro disappeared along with his wife, Hilda Torres Montenegro, six weeks before Argentina's March 24 coup.
Their daughter, Victoria Montenegro, learned in May that her birth father had been identified. She recovered her true identity in 2000 with the help of the Grandmothers, and it was her blood that provided the match to her father's remains.
"No word exists to describe my feelings," she wrote in an open letter months ago. She described "the sadness of knowing my father's final destiny," along with "this feeling of peace that only comes with the truth."
She thanked the rights activists and forensics team for enabling her to recover her father's dignity, "so that he would no longer be an unknown body in a grave on the coast of Uruguay," and pleaded with other relatives of the disappeared to donate their blood to Argentina's genetic database.
"It makes us better, as Argentines, each time we can identify them and sing more strongly, 'we have not been beaten'," she wrote.
Rights activists suspect the victims were thrown from Argentine military planes into the wide Rio de la Plata that separates Uruguay and Argentina. Witnesses in Argentina have described torture victims being drugged and flown alive into the sea on the so-called "death flights."
Alberto Breccia, secretary to Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, said the identifications disprove critics who complain of misspent efforts to identify dirty war victims. He said Uruguay's program includes 35 people whose work includes unearthing cadavers, updating archives and adding to a database that now includes genetic information from 85 percent of the families of Uruguay's disappeared.